BUFFALO, N.Y. — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced a mask mandate for all indoor public spaces on Monday.
During a press conference with Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein, Poloncarz cited a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations as the reason for the mandate, which goes into effect at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
There are currently 241 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Erie County, 50 of those patients are in the Intensive Care Unit.
Erie County Department of Health officials reports that close to 60% of those hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients.
Erie County hospitals have seen a 50% increase in the past two weeks. Wait times at emergency rooms are averaging between eight and 12 hours.
Dr. Burstein urged people to contact their primary doctor before going to the ER.
Poloncarz said that 91% of total hospital beds available in Erie County are full and 87% of ICU beds are full.
Dr. Michael Minneo, the Chief Medical Officer at Buffalo General Hospital said over the last few months every hospital in Erie County has been at or near 100% capacity.
“Some of that was COVID but most of it was the general acute disease that puts people in the hospital. At baseline we were not prepared for another surge in patients,” said Dr. Minneo. “Over the last week and a half, every hospital across Western New York was seeing a surge in COVID patients. That is overwhelming the emergency rooms, inpatients, but what should be worrying all of us is that we are now overwhelming the ICUs.”
Based on projections made by Dr. Peter Winkelstein of the University at Buffalo’s Medical School, COVID-19 hospitalizations are predicted to increase to 400 patients by the end of December, which is close to double where we are currently.
“I think the county made the right decision today recognizing that this is a public health crisis and most of the solutions are outside the hospital walls,” said Dr. Minneo.
Poloncarz said he has had conversations with New York State about mitigation efforts like a prohibition on elective surgeries if the hospital system continues to get overwhelmed.
In a statement, Erie County Medical Center said the hospital is having difficulty discharging patients because nursing homes and other congregate settings are short-staffed. Currently, ECMC has almost 50 COVID-19 patients and another 50 patients who should be discharged but who cannot because of staffing problems.
“As a result, we are seeing a high number of patients leaving without being seen in our Emergency Department, especially over weekends. We recommend that any individual with mild symptoms, first consult with their primary care physician or urgent care centers before making the decision to come to the hospital,” said ECMC Spokesperson Peter K. Cutler.